How you can protect your data | The Knife Media

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

(The Knife Media) It may not be possible to guarantee that your information is completely protected, but there are measures you can take to lessen the possibility of theft, and to prevent any potential theft from negatively affecting your financial standing.

According to studies conducted by the Pew Research center, about 64 percent of U.S. residents have experienced a “major” data breach. About 49 percent felt their data was less secure at the time of the January 2017 survey than it had been five years prior.

Yet as noted in our analysis Equifax and data privacy: Are consumers powerless?, while consumers voice concerns about data privacy, some don’t take steps to protect themselves from theft:

If you want to protect your data, Consumer Reports provides the following tips to secure your information:

  • Don’t give out your social security number to unknown people or organizations who ask for it via phone, email or other correspondences.
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card with you.
  • Don’t write your Social Security number on checks.
  • Store financial account statements, medical records, and tax filings in a secure place.
  • Don’t post your birthdate, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name, or other personal information on social media sites. That type of information may be used for verification purposes or security questions.
  • If available, sign up for any mobile alert features your bank or credit card offers, which can inform you of any suspicious activity, allowing you to act and contest the issue as it happens.
  • Freeze access to your credit report from credit bureaus such as Equifax (depending on the credit agency, this may cost various fees) to prevent someone from opening any new lines of credit in your name. Once this is done, only financial institutions that you already have a relationship with, such as your mortgage company, can access the report information. You must request a freeze from each reporting bureau individually.
  • As noted by Forbes contributor Marc Weber Tobias, unfreezing your account may take several days and have associated fees, which may need to be taken into consideration if you need to take out a line of credit, for example.
  • A 90-day fraud alert can be placed on accounts that you suspect have been compromised or illegally accessed.
  • Use strong passwords, as outlined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (see Appendix A) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. According to the aforementioned Pew Research survey, 25 percent of respondents said they use passwords that are “less secure than they’d like” because they’re easier to remember.
  • Fun fact: avoid using the password “Trustno1.” Formerly used by Fox Mulder in the TV show X-Files, it is now considered to be one of the 25 most popular passwords, according to a report from the password management service SplashData.
  • Monitor your financial account activity on a regular basis. This may involve seeking out credit reports maintained by companies such as Equifax, and keeping records of your own financial transactions, as well as those you suspect are the result of fraud.
  • Stop unwanted credit card requests. If you receive a credit card application in the mail, people may steal these forms and fill them out without your knowledge. Consumer Reports says you can stop credit bureaus from selling your name to lenders by going to optoutprescreen.com or calling 888–567–8688. The website lets you opt out for five years or life.

If you suspect you are being affected by identity theft, Consumer Reports recommends a number of steps, including letting your financial institutions know as soon as possible, closing compromised accounts and using the freezing and fraud alert tools previously noted.

Information on credit bureaus

Credit bureaus collect information such as a person’s bill payment and borrowing history in order to calculate a credit score. Credit scores are used by lenders, insurers and employers to assess how people handle financial responsibilities. For example, a bank may use your credit score to decide whether to give you a loan and what interest rate you will pay on it. Other information collected includes Social Security numbers, address history and birthdays.

Credit bureaus get their information from banks, credit card issuers and other creditors. They also collect public information such as court or property records.

There are three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, though there are other credit reporting companies, such as Payment Reporting Builds Credit (PRBC), Clarity Services Inc.and DataX.

For more information on the Equifax data breach, see our analysis.

Sources: The Federal ReserveEquifax

Written by Lisa Reider

Edited by Shane Mottishaw and Jens Erik Gould

Visit the original story with ratings on Knife Media’s website

Follow us on Twitter @theknifemedia